Silver Cross Country from Elsinore
by John Roe
As a relative newcomer to soaring with barely a year under my harness, even a mere
100-kilometer flight seemed a formidable task. I felt that after flying out of Elsinore
for the past few months and earning my Bronze badge it was time to go for it!
I had “tip-toed” out to Perris Valley and to Hemet a couple of times to get acquainted
with the terrain. Once I even landed at Hemet to get a feel for flying into an unfamiliar
place. I had already conquered Santiago peak the previous weekend and was ready
to get up into the mountains of the Banning Pass.
As it turned out, my first attempt on August 8th was a total failure, with not even
enough lift to get away from the house thermal on Elsinore peak, let alone fly out
50 klicks and return!
I set about watching the weather and awaiting the right day. It did not take long,
as the evening’s forecast on the 13th promised the 14th to be a spectacular day.
There were just a couple of small problems to overcome, like the fact that the 14th
was a Tuesday, that I had to work, and that my wife was expecting to go shopping
with me that day. After reading the morning forecast, I discovered it was great,
showing 8-10kt thermals rising to 8-10 thousand feet with the CCL right at the tops
plus getting better inland where I would be heading. I made phone calls and promises
and soon had a tow plane and a free afternoon lined up. I expected it to be a piece
of cake, planning to launch about 12:30 and be home in Laguna Hills by 17:30, at
This turned out to be only the first of my several erroneous assumptions and calculations
that day. Things started out well enough with Mr. Bob DeVries meeting me out at
Skylark field right on time. Puffy clouds were popping over the towers on the peak
with impressive Cu’s building into massive towers over San Jacinto and extending
into the San Bernardino’s. Somewhat less encouraging was a general lack of clouds
between Elsinore and Hemet, and this was to be important later on.
Dave held the declaration for the official photo, I stowed the barograph, and away
we went. Bob towed me to under the biggest Cu, and I released the line and dove
madly to notch the barograph trace, diving and zooming back up 600 feet to get started.
After floundering around a bit, feeling silly at not climbing much under a huge
cloud, I finally got the vario howling and at a bit under 8,000 feet headed out
on course into the blue sky towards Banning. With characteristic optimism, I put
on my oxygen cannula and set the flow for 10k. I wouldn’t need it for a while.
In fact, I didn’t hit anything until I was over the Wal-Mart by Perris Valley and
was down to about 4,500 feet thinking “Wassup?” I finally managed to climb to about
6,500 and made it to the hills to the north-west of Hemet, where once again I was
down to 4,500 or a little less, and looking at ending my flight at Hemet if I couldn’t
get another thermal soon. As it happened, I found a bubble and worked high enough
to head for the S ridge; fortunately, my luck immediately started to improve with
several areas of lift on the way.
I arrived over the S with plenty of altitude to search under the tasty clouds that
had been luring me all along. I wasn’t disappointed and soon my vario was screaming,
pegged at 15kts up and in no time I was at cloud base, 11,000 feet msl! I promptly
blasted off to do the last 8 miles to the banning airport in the cool shade of booming
cumulus clouds. Yes!
I had been in contact with Bob on the ground intermittently during the whole way
out, and as I took my turn point photos over the Banning airport, I told him that
I was absolutely thrilled and certain I would be back at Elsinore in no time. How
quickly I had forgotten the long arduous 25 miles of spotty lift to get to the S
ridge. In retrospect it is interesting to note that the joy and euphoria of 15 knot
thermals seemed to do a complete re-boot of my brain from “survival” mode to “ I
am the King of the world” mode, when I really should have been thinking of the lift-less
upwind trip home as the shadows got longer…
With the photos taken and the lift booming, I headed a little further north onto
the foothills of the San Bernardino’s, thinking “next time Big Bear.” After a little
bit I turned around and pointed the nose of my trusty steed straight at Elsinore
and blasted off with the MacCready ring set at 2.5 and brimming with confidence
that I would be back home at Elsinore in no time, victorious!
I hit lift several times in the first 10 miles, and stopped once to circle back
up to about 8,500 but thought, “why bother,” put the nose back down and went. It
didn’t seem to concern me too much that the sky was blue for the 25 miles ahead,
and that the wind was blowing 10-15 knots more or less in my face, or that I was
in a 30 year old Aluminum Schweizer that didn’t like headwinds.
However seemingly in no time at all I had gotten to within 7 miles of Elsinore,
but I was also down to 3,000 feet. I had been driving through pounding sink and
without having hit a damn thing except sink for 16 miles. I was no longer the king
of the world. I was hot, I was low and I was more than a little upset with myself
for having been so foolish. I decided that even though I just might be able to scrape
into Elsinore over the Sedco Hills, it would be safer to bail out to the Perris
Valley airport, so I hooked to the north and flew over every rock, hill, dark patch
of dirt and parking lot on the way hoping for a last minute save. At 1,000 agl,
I finally did get a half-knot thermal with a few stronger spots, but every turn
the wind was taking me away from the safety of the runway at Perris, so I gave up
and made an uneventful approach, landing on the ultra-light runway at the Perris
Once I was down and my 1-34 tied up, I called Bob who said he could come aero-tow
me home after a couple more stops on his work route, and then called my ground trailer
crew (Scott Magner) and told him I was done, and would be aero-towing back home.
The facilities at Perris Valley are amazing, with a wonderful cafeteria-style restaurant,
a huge bar, a pool and all sorts of other comforts-not a bad place to land-out,
if you have to land-out!
Bob called me back on my cell-phone an hour or so later and said he was in the cockpit
of our tow plane, and I went out of the air-conditioned comfort to meet him. We
towed back, did a little formation flying and then I soared a weak but workable
bubble over the water tank by the bee-hive ridge, finally landing at 18:40 after
having learned more in one flight than in the last 50. All in all it was a wonderful
experience, and I am glad that the SSA has this system of badges to help new pilots
such as myself get out of the nest and away from the home airport to discover what
soaring is really all about. As Jim Payne says, “Fly SAFE have FUN, then…soar FAR
Special Thanks to Bob, Dave, Mike, Scott and all who helped me get this Silver distance
flight done, now on to Gold (300 kilometer or 186.4 SM) distance…